Pseudo-Steinitz Two Knights French

By Michael Goeller

In a recent game at the Hamilton Quads, FM Steve Stoyko tried out a very unusual line against the French Two Knights (1.e4 e6 2.Nf3 d5 3.Nc3) which seems directly inspired by GM Ronen Har-Zvi's ICC lectures on the Pseudo-Steinitz line 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Ne4!? 5.Ne2 f6. Though Dragan Milovanovic appears to have won the game easily, it was not the fault of the opening which deserves further tests and analysis. I thought I'd use the game to review some of the alternatives for both players, which are not often discussed by theory.

Dragan Milovanovic (2262) - Steve Stoyko (2221) [C00]

Hamilton 3rd Saturday Quads/Hamilton Chess Club 2009


1. e4 e6

There is a line in Alekhine's Defense similar to the game line: 1... Nf6 2. Nc3 d5 3. e5 Ne4 4. Nce2 f6!? 5. d3 Ng5 6. Bxg5 fxg5 7. h4! g4 8. d4 c5!

 

2. Nf3

Stoyko says he was inspired in this game by GM Ronen Har-Zvi's ICC video series on the Pseudo-Steinitz, which focused on the rare 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Ne4 5. Nce2 f6!?

 

2... d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Ne4

4... Nfd7 5. d4 c5 6. dxc5 Nc6 7. Bf4 Bxc5 8. Bd3 f6 9. exf6 Nxf6 10. Qe2! O-O 11. O-O-O leads to a double edged line discussed by Viktor Moskalenko in The Flexible French.

 

5. Ne2

5. Qe2!? Nxc3 6. dxc3 b6 (6... c5 7. Bf4 (7. h4!? Nc6 8. h5 1/2-1/2 Gadir Guseinov-Bartolomiej Heberla/Kusadasi TUR 2006 (35)) 7... Nc6 8. O-O-O) 7. Bg5 Be7 8. Bxe7 Qxe7 9. Qe3 Ba6 10. Bd3 Bxd3 11. cxd3 (11. Qxd3!? Nd7 12. O-O O-O 13. Rae1 c5 14. c4 dxc4 15. Qxc4 with the idea Qg4, Ng5-e4, f4-f5, and Rf3-h3.) 11... c5 12. O-O Nc6 13. Nd2 followed by f4 +=

 

5... f6!?

 

 

 

A fascinating experiment. Black has several playable alternatives:

a) 5... Bc5 is the "book" move, when 6. d4 Be7 7. Ng3 c5 8. Bd3 (8. dxc5!?) 8... Nxg3 (8... f5!? 9. exf6 Nxf6 10. dxc5 Bxc5 11. O-O Nc6 12. Bg5 O-O 13. Qe2 Pcola - Sedlakova, Slovakian open Ch., Trencin 1995) 9. hxg3 h6 10. c3 Nc6 11. a3 gives White the usual slight edge but nothing more.

 

b) 5... h6!? looks like a viable alternative: 6. d3 (6. h4?! Bc5 7. d4 Be7 followed by c7-c5 = and White cannot comfortably play Ng3 without damaging his structure afterNxg3) 6... Ng5 7. Nxg5 (7. Ng3 c5 8. d4?! (8. Nd2 Nc6 9. f4 Nh7=) 8... Nc6 (8... Nxf3+!) 9. c3?! Nxf3+ 10. gxf3 cxd4 11. cxd4 Qb6 12. Ne2 Bd7 13. Bg2 Bb4+ 14. Kf1 (14. Bd2 Nxd4) 14... Be7 15. f4 O-O-O!? 16. Bf3 g5! 17. fxg5 hxg5 18. Qb3 Qa6 19. Be3 Kb8 20. Kg2? g4! 0-1 Graham Mooney-R Prasca Sosa (2410)/Dresden GER 2008 (27)) 7... hxg5 8. d4 c5 9. c3 Nc6 10. Be3 cxd4 (Black should keep the tension with 10... Bd7!) 11. cxd4 Bb4+?! (11... f6! 12. Qc2!? (12. exf6 gxf6) 12... Kf7) 12. Nc3 Qb6 13. a3 Be7 14. Be2 Bd7 15. b4! 1-0 Jurkovic,H (2426)-Schachinger,M (2242)/Austria AUT 2006 (36).

 

c) 5... Ng5!? 6. Nxg5 Qxg5 7. d4 Qh4!? 8. Be3 c5 9. c3 Nc6 10. a3 Bd7 11. b4 cxd4 12. cxd4 a5 13. b5 Ne7 14. Ng3 f6!? ( Black might wait on this push until he is better developed with 14... Ng6 followed by Rc8, Be7, O-O and only then f6 perhaps) 15. exf6 gxf6?! ( Cherniack suggests the improvement 15... Qxf6 16. Nh5 Qf7 17. Bd3 Ng6 followed by Bd6 and O-O.) 16. Nh5! Nf5?? (forced might be 16... Kf7 17. Bf4 Rg8 18. h3 e5! 19. g3 Bg4) 17. Bf4! Nxd4 (The Queen is trapped, so Black tries to complicate) 18. g3 Nc2+ 19. Kd2 Qxf4+ 20. gxf4 Nxa1 21. Nxf6+ and Black soon resigned in Benza - Cherniack, Aeroflot Open, Moscow 2008. Another opening disaster in this line that was no fault of the opening itself but just a series of unforced errors.

 

6. d3! Ng5

6... Nc5 7. d4 Ne4 8. Ng3

 

7. Nf4!?










This move seems hardly critical, and it only succeeds due to Stoyko's error on the following move. White likely must exchange the Knight in some way to try for advantage, but Black seems fine here as well with best play:

a) 7. Bxg5 fxg5 8. h4 g4! 9. Nh2 (9. Nd2 c5 xe5) 9... Qxh4!? 10. Ng3 Bd7 11. Nxg4 Qg5=

 

b) 7. Nxg5 fxg5 8. h4! trying to secure f4 for the Knight, on the model of the line in the Alekhine's mentioned above, leads to very complex play.

 

(Not as good seems 8. Ng3 g6 9. d4 Be7 10. Bd3 c5 11. c3 Nc6 12. Be3 cxd4 13. cxd4 Qa5+ 14. Kf1 Bd7 15. a3 Qb6 16. b4 O-O 17. Qg4? Nxe5! 18. dxe5 Qxe3 19. Qe2 Qd4 (even better 19... Rxf2+!! 20. Qxf2 Qxd3+ 21. Kg1 Bd8! and Bb6 is deadly) 20. Rd1 Rxf2+ 21. Qxf2 Rf8 and White resigned in 0-1 Michaud,C-Ruf,M/Bern 1993 because there is no saving the queen after: 22. Nf5? Rxf5!)

 

8... gxh4! (8... g4?! 9. Nf4 Nc6 10. d4 and Black's damaged structure on the kingside is a permanent problem.) 9. Nf4!? (9. Ng1! c5 10. Qh5+ g6 11. Qxh4 Qxh4 12. Rxh4 Nc6 13. Nf3 Bg7 14. Bh6!=) 9... g6 10. d4 c5 11. c4! Nc6 12. cxd5 Nxd4!? (12... exd5! 13. dxc5 Bxc5) 13. dxe6 Bg7 14. Qa4+ Kf8 15. Bc4 Bxe5 16. O-O (16. Nd3!?) 16... Kg7 17. Re1 Qd6 18. Nd3 Bh2+ 19. Kh1 b5! 20. Bxb5 Bb7?! (20... h3! 21. g3?? Qd5+ mates) 21. Re3! Bf4 22. Nxf4 Qxf4 23. Rf3 Qe4 24. Rf7+ Kg8 25. Rxb7? (The game now ended in a messy time scramble and White lost on time in an equal position. But White has at least a draw by 25. Bf1 h3 26. Rg7+!! Kf8 (26... Kxg7 27. Qd7+) 27. Rf7+= draw) 25... Qxb7 26. Qc4? Qb6? (26... h3!) 27. Qd5! Qb7?? 28. Qc4?? Qe7 29. Qd5 0-1 Ahn,M (2277)-Saiboulatov,D (2366)/Eupen BEL 2003.

 

7... Nc6?

Black seems fine here after the simple 7... Nxf3+! 8. Qxf3 g6 9. Qh3!? (9. exf6 Qxf6 10. c3 Bd6 or 9. d4 fxe5 10. dxe5 Bg7= both look fine for Black) 9... Kf7 10. d4 c5! (10... Nc6!?). Stoyko likely underestimated this possibility because he generally does not like to be the one to resolve the tension in a position.

 

8. Nxg5! fxg5 9. Qh5+ Kd7 10. Nh3

10. Ng6? hxg6 11. Qxh8?? Bb4+

 

10... h6 11. c3!

Blocking possible checks at b4, limiting the Black Knight's activity and preparing to support the pawn at e5 by d4. A blunder would be 11. Bxg5? hxg5 12. Qxh8?? Bb4+ picking up the Queen.

 

11... Be7?!

Black must do something active or it's all downhill from here. Perhaps 11... Nxe5!? 12. d4! (12. Bxg5!? Qe8 13. Qxe8+ Kxe8 14. Bf4 Bd6 15. d4 Nc6 16. g3 g5! 17. Bxd6 cxd6 18. f4 e5!) 12... g6! 13. Qd1 Nc6 14. f4!

 

12. d4 Qe8 13. Qd1 Qf7 14. Bd3 Bd8 15. O-O Rf8 16. f4 gxf4 17. Nxf4 Qg8 18. Qg4 Ne7 19. Bd2 c6 20. Ng6 Re8 21. Nxe7 Rxe7

No better 21... Bxe7 22. Qg6 (threatening Rf7) (22. Bg6 Rf8 23. Rxf8 Qxf8 24. Rf1 Qg8 25. Bf7) 22... Rf8 23. Rxf8 Qxf8 24. Rf1

 

22. Bxh6! Kc7 23. Bg5 Rd7 24. Bxd8+ Kxd8 25. Rf3

and White will double Rooks with a deadly invasion to follow, so Black resigned. An unfortunate outing for Stoyko and his interesting opening experiment, which deserves more tests and reminds us that there are many lines outside the realm of theory.

 

1-0

[Michael Goeller]

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Copyright © 2009 by Michael Goeller